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Sir Joshua Peter Bell (1827–1881)

The whole city was shocked shortly after noon on Tuesday, 20th instant, by the awfully sudden death of Sir Joshua Peter Bell, President of the Legislative Council, and one of the most highly esteemed and generally liked colonists of Queensland. Sir Joshua was in his usual health and spirits the night before his death; in fact, he had just returned with Lady Bell from a trip south, and was if anything, apparently in better health than usual. Nor was there anything in his appearance on Tuesday morning to alarm his friends. He was employed in finishing whatever business he had to do in Brisbane, in order that he might go home to Jimbour to spend his Christmas with his family. While thus engaged he called at the Bank of Australasia, and while there spoke to the manager, Mr. Dixon, of a sudden sensation of illness. It seemed to be nothing, however, and the two gentlemen got into a hansom cab to drive up Queen-street. They had hardly gone a hundred yards when Sir Joshua's head drooped forward, and he became partly unconscious. Mr. Dixon stopped the cab, and with the assistance of bystanders helped him into Mr. Taylor's chemist's shop, where he gasped two or three times and died. Drs. Rendle, O'Doherty, Bancroft, and Hobbs quickly attended, but the patient was past their help, having been stricken down by serious apoplexy. The intelligence of the sad event spread rapidly through the town, and a number of Sir Joshua's personal friends—including the Premier, Sir Arthur Palmer, and Mr. Robert Gray—came to see him. The body was ultimately removed to the private rooms which the deceased had occupied as President, in the Legislative Council wing of Parliament House. In all directions spontaneous tokens of grief and mourning were noticeable; flags were hoisted half-mast high, shutters, in some cases draped with crape, were put up, and there was hardly any other topic of conversation among wayfarers in the street than the loss which the colony had sustained in a manner so shocking and unexpected.

Joshua Peter Bell was born in Kildare, Ireland, on the 19th of January, 1827, and had therefore nearly completed his 55th year at the time of his death. Although not actually a native of this continent, he was virtually an Australian, having been brought to Sydney as a child four years old and educated in that city. He came to Queensland in 1847, and in conjunction with other members of his family became part owner of what was even then the magnificent station Jimbour, which has remained his home ever since. When Queensland was separated from New South Wales Mr. Bell's prominent position as a leading squatter naturally induced him to enter public life, and he was first elected to the Assembly as one of the members for West Moreton in 1863. He soon made his mark in Parliament, and in December, 1864, was offered and accepted the position of Treasurer in the Herbert Ministry. He kept the position when that Ministry merged into the Macalister Government, Mr. Macalister himself taking the departments of Lands and Works, Mr. Mackenzie that of Colonial Secretary, and Mr. Lilley becoming Attorney-General. In further reorganisations of the Government Mr. Bell took charge of the Lands Office in August, 1866, and became Acting-Minister for Works in May, 1867. At the general election of June, 1867, Mr. Bell was again returned for West Moreton in conjunction with Messrs. P. O'Sullivan and G. Thorn. Next year, 1868, Mr. Bell was elected for Northern Downs, and continued to sit for that constituency for some years. In March, 1871, he again accepted the position of Treasurer in the Ministry formed by Mr. Palmer, and held it till that gentleman resigned in January, 1874. At the general election of the preceding year, 1878, under the new Act which had re-distributed and increased the number of electorates, Mr. Bell was returned for Dalby, which seat he held till the general election of 1878, when he was again returned for Northern Downs. On the 3rd April, 1879, he resigned his seat in the Assembly to accept the position of President of the Legislative Council, which he held till his death. During Sir Arthur Kennedy's six months' absence in England last year Mr. Bell occupied the position of Acting-Governor very much to the satisfaction of the public. About a month ago he received the honour of knighthood from her Majesty.

Mr. Bell's career as a public man was characterised by the strictest integrity and honourable dealing. Though not a brilliant orator, his words were well chosen, and he always commanded the respect and attention of Parliament. As Treasurer he displayed a good deal of practical ability, and as a politician he was liked and respected, even by those divided from him by the broadest lines of party demarcation. As a citizen he was a thoroughly popular man. The sentiment entertained for him was not merely respect and esteem, but positive personal attachment among thousands who hardly even knew him by sight. This was due in great part to the unfailing courtesy which he always displayed in his intercourse with high and low. It was a courtesy which was natural, the index to a kindly disposition. He had the rare gift of being able to maintain his own views, and take his own part in politics and business, without making enemies of his opponents. Always freely tolerating those who differed from him, he earned from them the same consideration. It is a significant fact that, although a squatter whose run was in part given up to selection, and although associated in politics with what was known as the squatting party, he was always on the best of terms with the selectors in his neighbourhood. So great was his personal popularity and influence that the electorates in his own district furnished seats which might almost be said to have been at his disposal. And bushmen from one end of Queensland to another speak of Jimbour as the place where the old-fashioned Australian hospitality was to be found in its perfection. Enterprising in business, ready to take part in all schemes for the industrial advancement of the colony, Sir Joshua was equally active in the encouragement of its sports and pastimes. He was a great patron of the turf, and as owner of racing stock had made a reputation throughout Australia for honourable dealing. In short, he was in all respects a good citizen, and his death has caused a loss to the community which will be widely felt and deeply regretted.

Sir Joshua has left a widow and five children. Four are sons, and the eldest is in England pursuing his studies.

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Citation details

'Bell, Sir Joshua Peter (1827–1881)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

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